Rays hoping to go on run prior to break

Rays hoping to go on run prior to break

ARLINGTON -- Tuesday night the Rays will begin a six-game homestand against the Blue Jays and the A's, and the team is hoping to end the first half on a high note.

Last season the Rays headed into the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak.

"It would be nice to get on a roll going into the break this time," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "Last year we had been playing well, then went to New York and to [Cleveland] and lost four there. It was a tough break in that regard. But we were still in first place at that time. ... Now we're fighting to get there. So it would be great to finish strongly and get into the break with a better number attached to us."

Rays players remember the way the first half ended last year, too.

"We definitely want to try and make up some ground [at home]," Carl Crawford said. "Last year we lost seven straight. It would be nice to have a winning record at home and that way, going into the second half we can have some momentum going."

Sprint Final Vote candidate Carlos Pena will look to make his bid for the Midsummer Classic against Jays starter Brad Mills. Pena has never faced Mills during the course of his career. Fans can vote for Pena via online balloting or by using their cell phone.

James Shields will start opposite Mills for the Rays and hopes to set the tone for the homestand. "I think it's pretty important to win some ballgames when we get there," Shields said.

The Rays are a better team at home where they have compiled a 26-13 record this season. In addition, the Rays have won five straight at Tropicana Field and 10 of their past 11. Also, having Shields on the mound at home twice during the home stand should be an advantage given the fact he has a 23-10 record with a 3.23 ERA in 51 career starts at Tropicana Field.

"Obviously he's always done a nice job back [at Tropicana Field]," Maddon said. "He'll get Toronto again, and Oakland. I do like the idea of Shieldsy pitching twice at home."

Shields lost his last start, which came against the Blue Jays on Wednesday when he allowed three solo home runs in a 5-0 Rays loss at Toronto.

"I give up a lot of solo home runs," Shields said. "I'll take that all day. Solo home runs don't win ballgames." Shields paused to consider his remark. "Well, last game they won a ballgame, but I'll take solo homers every time. ... If I can minimize the damage, we're going to have a good chance to win."

Shields expressed a desire to get a nice hometown crowd the final week before the break.

"Hopefully, we get some people out there," Shields said. "Hopefully, we get some fans out there to support us. I know our record's pretty good when we have 30,000 or above; hopefully, the town kind of jumps together before we make this final push before the All-Star break."

Pitching matchup
TB: RHP James Shields (6-6, 3.50 ERA)
Shields allowed five runs in Wednesday's loss to the Jays at Rogers Centre but pitched better than that number suggests. He gave up three runs through the first seven innings, and one was unearned as a result of a fielding error by first baseman Carlos Pena. Shields gave up back-to-back solo home runs in the eighth before being pulled with 7 1/3 innings under his belt. He allowed seven hits in the effort, striking out eight batters while walking only one. The three home runs he gave up tied a career high.

TOR: LHP Brad Mills (0-1, 14.09 ERA)
Mills has been summoned back to the Blue Jays' rotation with right-hander Scott Richmond landing on the disabled list with inflammation in his right biceps tendon. On Thursday, Mills logged eight shutout innings for Triple-A Las Vegas, scattering two hits and finishing with seven strikeouts and one walk. In two starts with the Jays last month, when Mills helped fill in while ace Roy Halladay was on the DL with a right groin issue, the lefty allowed 14 runs on 12 hits and threw 189 pitches over 7 2/3 innings. Mills struggled to keep his pitches in the lower half of the strike zone and was hit hard as a result in two starts against the Phillies.

Tidbits
Heading into Sunday night's game, the bullpen trio of Dan Wheeler, J.P. Howell, and Grant Balfour had pitched a combined 31 2/3 innings and not allowed a run since June 9. ... Maddon talked to Howell to explain why he did not choose him for the All-Star team, noting that he thought the left-hander belonged on the team. Howell seemed to appreciate the gesture and told reporters that if he's an All-Star, he'll be back to a game. Maddon will consider Howell to fill a spot in the event of an injury. ... The tandem of B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford became just the fifth set of teammates all-time to reach 30 steals by the All-Star break after Upton stole a base in the third frame on Sunday.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• Sun Sports

On radio
• WDAE 620

Up next
• Wednesday: Rays (Scott Kazmir, 4-5, 6.79) vs. Blue Jays (Brian Tallet, 5-6, 4.38), 7:08 p.m. ET
• Thursday: Rays (David Price, 2-3, 5.21) vs. Blue Jays (Roy Halladay, 10-2, 2.79), 12:08 p.m. ET
• Friday: Rays (TBD) vs. Athletics (Vin Mazzaro, 2-4, 3.59), 7:38 p.m. ET

Bill Chastain is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.